(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
Every college baseball coach will agree that upperclassmen leadership is one of the most crucial intangibles for a team’s success. Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith is no different.
Enter Zach Cerbo. The senior catcher, one of only two players who has been at Arizona State prior to Smith’s arrival, started in his second straight game against the Long Beach State Dirtbags and did not disappoint. The Montville, N.J. native finished the day 2-2 with two runs, three RBI and a two-run home run as ASU emerged victorious 9-4.
A known belief of Smith’s is that every player gets the playing time that they deserve. However, he admits that it’s always nice to see players’ results on the field match what they bring to the team behind the scenes.
“You’re happy for someone who pays their dues, and they earn every bit that they get,” Smith said. “[Cerbo’s] not been on the field early on. But a credit to him that he’s been ready, he’s been steady and waiting for his opportunity. He did a fantastic job today of keeping guys in it emotionally but also sticking in the big hits.”
For Cerbo, who has had limited playing time in his collegiate career having enrolled in the same class as former Sun Devil Brian Serven, and having to set himself apart from incoming freshman this season in the form of Sam Ferri and Lyle Lin, a game like Saturday is always a boost for personal morale.
“It’s obviously exciting. It’s great to be in the game and help my team win,” Cerbo said.
Following Friday night’s 10th inning walk-off thriller that snapped a four-game losing streak, ASU came into the middle game of the series looking to keep momentum on their side as the start of conference play looms next weekend.
Freshman Spencer Van Scoyoc was given the ball to start Saturday and worked past a shaky first inning in which Long Beach State grabbed a 2-0 lead, with both runners reaching base via Van Scoyoc walks.
The left-hander settled down from there, however, and finished with a line of 4.2 innings, two earned runs, four walks and one strikeout.
Cerbo attributed the poor start to Van Scoyoc’s competitiveness getting in the way of his ability to relax and locate each pitch.
“Sometimes when he’s not in the zone, he tries too hard and presses a little bit,” Cerbo said. “So I think that was the biggest adjustment that he was having to make, was not being so perfect and let [Long Beach State] hit the ball, keep it in the zone and just trusting his stuff honestly.”
After Cerbo’s second-inning home run coupled with a Hunter Bishop sacrifice fly put ASU ahead 3-2, the pitching staff took over for the middle innings, with Van Scoyoc giving way to Reagan Todd.
The redshirt sophomore turned in a performance of 2.2 innings, two hits, and two earned runs, but still was able to pick up his first win of the season, and earn the praise of Smith for attacking the strike zone from his first pitch on following Van Scoyoc’s somewhat erratic outing.
“If you’re playing positionally and your guy is out there walking everybody it can put you to sleep,” Smith said. “So I think what [Todd] did was pound the strike zone and get everybody back into it.”
Arizona State was able to answer Long Beach State’s two-run seventh inning against Todd by scoring a run of their own in the bottom half via a Jackson Willeford RBI single, before plating four runs in the eighth inning to put the game out of reach and clinch the series.
Moving forward, the injury bug that has plagued a few Sun Devils throughout 2017 reared its ugly head in the seventh, with Willeford having to be pulled after his go-ahead single because of a recurring hamstring injury. Smith said was unsure postgame if Willeford would have to miss any amount of time.
In the final game of the series on Sunday afternoon, junior Ryan Hingst will make the start for Arizona State, while Long Beach State has yet to announce their starting pitcher. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. from Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Bobby Kraus is a baseball beat reporter for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow him on Twitter @bobbykraus22